(USA Today) The Trump administration said Thursday it is pulling out of UNESCO, citing concerns of an "anti-Israel bias" and other problems at the United Nations cultural organization.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Israel also plans to withdraw from the agency.
The U.S. withdrawal will take place at the end of next year, the State Department said in a statement.
"This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects U.S. concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO," the statement said.
The State Department planned to "remain engaged" with the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization as a non-member observer state.
The withdrawal is mostly symbolic, since it cut off funding to the organization under the Obama administration and the bills keep piling up.
The U.S. stopped funding UNESCO after it voted to include Palestine as a member in 2011.
The Reagan administration withdrew from the organization in 1984, but President George W. Bush brought the United States back into the group in 2002.
The move highlights the Trump administration's skepticism of the United Nations. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley has been critical of the world body.
One of UNESCO's core missions is the World Heritage program, which protects historic and cultural sites. It also runs a number of educational programs.
Irina Bokova, the director general of UNESCO, said it was "regrettable" that the United States has decided to withdraw from the organization.
"At the time when conflicts continue to tear apart societies across the world, it is deeply regrettable for the United States to withdraw from the United Nations agency promoting education for peace and protecting culture under attack," she said.
Netanyahu said Israel plans to follow the U.S. and withdraw from the agency, saying it had become a “theater of the absurd because instead of preserving history, it distorts it.”
Israel has been irked by resolutions that diminish its historical connection to the Holy Land and have instead named ancient Jewish sites as Palestinian heritage sites, according to the Associated Press.
More: UNESCO adopts controversial Jerusalem resolution
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